Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mocha Bûche de Noël

I did it! I made a trial run first, and learned from a few of my minor mistakes, but I tackled what I thought might be one of the trickiest things to make - a Bûche de Noël - and I came out victorious. The end result was a delicious and moist chocolate cake soaked with brandy and espresso, filled with a coffee-flavored whipped cream and ricotta filling with small, toothsome bits of dark chocolate, and the whole thing was covered with chocolate ganache. It was a lovely and yummy, and it actually tasted better as it aged in the fridge!

This was my first time making a genoise. I wasn't familiar with this type of a cake, as everything I'd done before had been a variation on the standard creamed butter and egg cake batter that goes into a 9" round pan and bakes for 40 minutes. I didn't know how it was going to roll without cracking, that confounded me. And I was wary of the syrup, having had only a single, and disastrous, experience with soaking a cake (I ended up with a flattened, soggy cake, ew). And I didn't think tiramisu counted, since the ladyfingers were purchased and therefore already a little dried out (did you know ladyfingers were piped genoise? I didn't!). But after all was said and done, it was pretty straightforward.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Rich and Delicious Mocha Bread Pudding

Continuing on the coffee theme, here's a rich bread pudding that pairs one of my absolute favorite flavor combinations - chocolate and coffee. I remember the first time I had bread pudding, it seemed like the oddest thing to me. But when I got it, I fell in love - the bread had been transformed from something simple to something decadent, creamy in the middle and crisp around the edges, all full of chocolate but not too sweet. I was hooked.

Make no bones about it, this isn't for the faint of heart, or those trying to diet. It's full of dairy, eggs, bread, and chocolate. It's rich. And it makes a lot! But it is an awesome dessert, and it's done the way I like, which is just sweet enough, but not too sweet. I suggest a little whipped cream for topping, especially if you spike it with something like a coffee liqueur or bourbon. Or, for extra decadence (and as I have done here), some caramel sauce and coffee ice cream.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Coffee-spiked Pork Satay

These are a unique yet simple appetizer for get-togethers or a light lunch or dinner - pork skewers with a simple coffee-spiked peanut sauce. It's not the first pork skewers I have on here, and it probably won't be the last, but what can I say, I dig meat on a stick. I know the dipping sauce sounds a little strange -- coffee and peanut butter, really? -- but it’s a surprisingly nice flavor combination, and if you have a little leftover coffee from the morning, this will all come together super quickly. And after all the work of the holidays, or if you're planning a New Year's shindig, wouldn't we all love something simple and quick?

I know I'm really pulling from a variety of influences here, but don't skip the garam masala. I find the combo of spices is just right to give it a real depth of complimentary flavor to peanut sauce. If you don't have any on hand, try adding just a pinch of coriander, cinnamon and black pepper.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Chocolate Cherry Almond Biscotti

Let me start right off the bat by simply saying this: this might be my favorite cookie ever. I love all the tried and true favorites - a good, thick, chewy chocolate chip cookie; a soft and chewy oatmeal raisin cookie; a crisp and delicate sugar cookie; and Newman-O's and Girl Scout Samoas and Thin Mints are oh-so-good. But this cookie fulfills all my favorite things I like about sweets in one go: chocolate, of course, preferably dark; sweet-tart and chewy dried cherries for a little bright-tart flavor, and texture; almonds and almond flavoring, because I'm a sucker for sweet almond treats; cardamom, since I adore it but I find it's rarely used in Western foods; and the fact that these are just sweet enough, but not too sweet. Put those all together, and make it into a cookie that's easy and not at all fussy, and you have a winner.

The base is also really versatile - chocolate, cherry, and almonds with a little cardamom is my personal favorite. But you could use cranberries, white chocolate, and pistachios; a little orange zest and anise seed; really, whatever you like. These last ones I drizzled with a little milk chocolate for a cookie exchange, and you can dip half in chocolate for a nice presentation if you like. But usually, I just make (and eat) these plain.

If you decide to make this with dried cherries, and you have a Trader Joe's nearby, I strongly encourage you to stop there and seek out their dried Montmorency cherries. I've tried various dried cherries, packaged and in bulk bins, but they are usually too sweet and mushy (and occassionally rotten, yuck). I've bought countless bags of the TJ's ones over the year, and they are by far the best AND most reasonably priced of the lot, with the best sweet-tart flavor and chewy texture.